When, Where & How
If you are following my “How to Plan a Disney Trip” series, my last post was Part 1: Disneyland or Disney World, and hopefully this helped you decide which park you would like your family to visit this year. Now we have to figure out when you want to go, where you will stay, and how you will get there. These are three big details to hammer out! It is always best to book as far in advance as you can. Release dates change as to when you can start making reservations, but eight months to a year is a good rule of thumb. Here are some tips and advice on how to make these choices.
Sometimes we don’t have much choice when we can take our vacation. It may be determined by other factors like school breaks, work calendars or coordinating with other family’s schedules or commitments. But if you could pick any time of the year you wanted to go, you would want to weigh many different factors to determine your dates.
How Long To Go
Disneyland: To get a chance to see and do it all in a relaxed manner and not burn out your kids, we recommend a minimum of 3 days but you could do up to a 5-day Park Hopper pass and have lots of fun.
Disney World: To really enjoy the trip and see all the parks in a relaxed manner and again, not burn out your kids, we recommend a minimum of 7 days but 10 days would allow you to really enjoy everything. (10 days is the maximum on Park Hopper passes, unless you are from the UK which the maximum is 14 days)
While some people aren’t bothered by crowds, most people would prefer to travel when the crowds are lower. There are seasonal times when crowds at both parks get lighter, which can mean less wait times and more comfort when walking around. If you are looking for a less crowded, off-season time, the first thing you should avoid are holidays and school breaks. This includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Labor Day, Memorial Day, spring breaks, and summer breaks. Here is a yearly summary of basic crowd levels at both parks.
If you decide to visit one of the parks off-season, remember that Disneyland cuts down quite a bit more on their offerings during that time compared to Disney World. That includes parks opening later and closing earlier, but we have found with small kids in tow, this doesn’t affect much anyways.
Now that you have an idea when you would like to go on your Disney trip, you will need to decide where you would like to stay and check availability.
Disneyland has three resorts on-site to choose from: Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier. Staying on property provides perks for the parks and a touch of Disney magic. They are also the closest to the parks and provide an easy walk to the park or monorail. On our website, we provide ratings of each of these resorts from families who have stayed at each hotel on our Disneyland Accommodations page. If you would like a more economical option, there are off-site hotels all around the Disneyland area. On Disneyland’s website, they have Good Neighbor hotels you can choose from that usually provide shuttles to and from the park each day.
A down-side to staying on property if you are a family of five or more (like us): All the hotel rooms on-property are for families of four and additional children will require an additional room. If your youngest is 3 or younger, they will count them as using a Pack-n-Play for sleeping and won’t require an additional room. (Pack-n-Plays are provided in each room) The only option at Disneyland for larger families besides adding another room or suite, is the Grand Californian villas. A one-bedroom villa can sleep up to 5 and a 2-bedroom villa can sleep up to 9. There are limited supply of these so reservations for these are hard to come by.
Disney World has a huge selection of hotels to stay at, and hopefully one that fits within your vacation budget. Staying on property is truly the easiest and most magical, as it provides perks within the park, close proximity to parks and transportation to all parks and downtown Disney. We have put together a summary on our website of all the resorts, including ratings from those that have stayed there, on our Disney World Accommodations page.
If you are a family of five or more, Disney World actually has a lot of choices that are both economical and functional. The new Art of Animation resort has family suites for families of five or more. And there are many DVC locations that have villas that sleep 5 or more easily. For more advice on traveling to Disney with large family, see our posts on Disney Vacations for Families of 5 or more.
One thing to consider when choosing your resort, is what park will your family like to be the closest to. A bird’s eye view of Disney World shows how spread out the four main parks are, and if your family will spend a few days at the Magic Kingdom, maybe being closest to that park is worth it. Or maybe staying right next to Animal Kingdom is what you are looking for, and you would like to look out your room at the savannah to watch giraffes. Since you will be traveling with little ones, keep in mind all the travel time to and from parks when choosing your resort.
Once you have chosen one or two places you would like to stay, it is time to make your reservation. You can call the Disney Travel Company direct, or book through their website, or use AAA travel agents, or Costco travel, or another travel agent all together to make your reservation. They should all offer perks and deals if you book through them.
The last detail to decide is how you will get there, and of course, that depends on where you are coming from! If you decide to drive to your vacation, check with your hotel about parking fees. Some travel agencies, like AAA, include parking in their packages.
If you are flying to either vacation, keep in mind the airport shuttle situation for each park. If you are staying on property at Disney World, Magical Express airport shuttle is included in your stay. You have to sign up for the service, and baggage tags are sent to your house before your trip. If your airline participates in resort airline check-in service, your luggage will go straight from the airplane to Disney’s luggage service and delivered to your hotel room. So no baggage claim! If your airline doesn’t participate, you will simply have to claim your bags and take them to the bus. Disneyland does offer an airport shuttle but you have to pay for it, and it doesn’t run quite as smoothly as in Disney World. It is also operated by a third party and not Disney.
Here is a list of the airlines that participate in resort airline check-in service at Orlando International Airport:
- AirTran Airways
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- JetBlue Airways
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- US Airways
The last detail you may need to decide when you book your trip is what kind of passes you would like to order. Here is a quick summary of your choices for each park. “Hopping” is Disney’s term for going between parks within a given day, hence ‘hopping’ between parks, as opposed to being limited to one park for the whole day.
One-Park Pass (1-day, 2-day and 3-day): Ticket for one park – no hopping. These are not an economical choice.
Park Hopper Pass (1-day, 2-day and 3-day): Ticket includes hopping which is recommended since the parks are right next to each other. If you are only visiting a couple days, you will want to hop between the parks.
Park-Hopper Passes (4-day and 5-day): These are the most economical if you are staying this many days, as each subsequent day gets cheaper. As always, the hopper pass is recommended.
**Watch for special deals online on park hoppers as Disney will sometimes run discounts and deals
Multiple day park hopper passes are recommended for WDW vacation. Each additional day you add gets substantially cheaper. We recommend the park hopper because some parks are limited in their evening offerings and you may want to “hop” to other parks at night. This is the same for dining choices that you may want to visit a different park for dinner.
Water Park Fun & More Option
If your family is staying a week or longer, and plan to visit one of the two water parks on property, this may be a good thing to add. This will also add entrance to DisneyQuest, two Miniature golf parks, Oak Trail Golf course and ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. If you have an 8-day pass, you have 8 admission to use at these choices. If you are taking a long trip at the world, this is a great option especially with older kids.
Follow our other posts in this series:
Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!